TRIPOLI, Libya — Hours after NATO airstrikes pounded the area near Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s compound again before dawn Thursday, Russia’s envoy to Libya turned up at a bombing site while on a visit to Tripoli for talks on ending the civil war.
Italy’s foreign minister, meanwhile, said his government was calling together tribal leaders from all parts of Libya for a meeting to promote reconciliation.
Franco Frattini said Thursday up to 300 people representing all of Libya’s regions will attend the meeting. He did not give a date. The ANSA news agency said the meeting might take place next week.
And one of Gadhafi’s sons told an Italian newspaper that his father would not seek exile outside Libya but that elections under International supervision could offer a way out. A vote could be organized within 3 months, he said.
The son, Saif al-Islam, told Corriere della Sera that Gadhafi would step aside if he lost, which the son said was unlikely. He acknowledged, however, that “my father’s regime as it developed since 1969 is dead.” The son said he envisions a federal state with strong local autonomy and a weak central government in Tripoli.
In Moscow, the ITAR-Tass news agency said envoy Mikhail Margelov had met in Tripoli with Foreign Minister Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi and planned a session with Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi. Reporters taken to a bombing site — it was not clear if it was the location hit early Thursday — saw Margelov there, in the company of government officials.
Last week, Margelov visited the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi and said that Gadhafi has lost his legitimacy. However, Margelov also said NATO airstrikes are not a solution to Libya’s violent stalemate.
The Interfax agency quoted Margelov as saying, after meeting the foreign minister, that he was told “Gadhafi is not prepared to leave, and the Libyan leadership will talk about the country’s future only after a cease-fire.” The foreign minister also said, according to Margelov, that the African Union should be “the main force” in reaching a resolution.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland rejected the idea of elections in Libya. “It’s a little late for any proposals by Gadhafi and his circles for democratic change,” she said Thursday. “It’s time for him to go.”
The latest NATO strike on Gadhafi’s compound rattled windows across the heart of the capital, producing thunderous concussions and smoke billowing into the air.
It was not clear what was hit, and there was no word on casualties. Government officials did not immediately comment on the strike. NATO warplanes have repeatedly targeted the area in and around the Bab al-Aziziya compound.
NATO launched its air campaign nearly three months ago under a United Nations resolution to protect civilians. What started as a peaceful uprising inside the country against Gadhafi and his more than four-decade rule has become a civil war.
Poorly equipped and trained rebel fighters have taken control of the eastern third of Libya and pockets of the west. The fighting had reached a stalemate until last week when NATO launched the heaviest bombardment of Gadhafi forces since the alliance took control of the skies over Libya.
NATO has been pounding Gadhafi’s military and government positions with increasing vigor and the rebels are again on the move.
Tunisian army official Mokhtar Ben Nasr said the number of Libyans fleeing has mounted in recent days, with 6,330 Libyan refugees crossing into Tunisia earlier this week. Dozens of Libyan soldiers also have defected to Tunisia by boat, the state news agency there reported Wednesday.
A Tunisian official said a lieutenant colonel was the latest Libyan officer to desert Gadhafi’s army and flee across the border.
The official told The Associated Press Thursday that the officer took a desert road through the Sahara to cross the border near the town of Ben Guerdane, where he was stopped by a Tunisian national guard unit.
The officer told authorities that he wanted to join his family. They had earlier fled Libya for the Tunisian island of Djerba, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
The officer defected Wednesday, the same day that 46 more soldiers, including officers, sailed boats to the Tunisian port of Ketf and defected, citing the intensified fighting in Libya.
Britain’s prime minister has said that time is running out for Gadhafi’s forces, even as some senior military leaders within NATO have voiced concerns that the mission is straining the alliance’s resources.
“Time is on our side,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers Wednesday. “We have got NATO, we’ve got the United Nations, we’ve got the Arab League, we have right on our side. The pressure is building militarily, diplomatically, politically, and time is running out for Gadhafi.”
In Washington, the White House insisted Wednesday that President Barack Obama has the authority to continue U.S. military action in Libya even without authorization from lawmakers in Congress.
Its 32-page report to Congress argues that because the U.S. has a limited, supporting role in the NATO-led bombing campaign in Libya and American forces are not engaged in sustained fighting, the president is within his constitutional rights to direct the mission on his own.
But the report appeared to do little to quell congressional criticism. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the White House was using “creative arguments” that raised additional questions.
• Associated Press writer Julie Pace and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
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